The Applicant


The Applicant

     Each weekday morning, Ashland Morrow looked forward to wrapping his thin fingers around a large latte created by a twenty-something he found attractive but could never like who took the trouble to carve a hot milk heart into the top of the pure white froth. He liked the emptiness of the wood-paneled elevator rising silently in the gleaming tower where he worked; the quiet of his office before the day officially began. He liked standing at the window high above the city’s stink and din, watching the clouds move from west to east across a horizon he always thought of as his.

     Arriving just after eight, Ashland wasn’t expecting to be greeted by an applicant waiting for him in his large, modern sanctum sanctorum at the end of a lane created by the cubicle farm he had populated with hand-picked support staff.

     “Good morning,” said the well-dressed young man causing Ashland to stop just inside his double office doors and release a slight gasp, a barely audible intake of breath clearly heard in the near perfect quiet of this pristine aerie with its thick carpet and expensive art.

     Rising out of the expensive low leather chair bought precisely because it was lower than Ashland’s high-backed, ultra-slim Cobra, the young man continued, “Gillian said it would be okay if I waited in your office. I’m Tom Hardy.”

     “Gillian often doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Mr. Hardy,” said Ashland a little stiffly. “I appreciate promptness, but you’re early. Sit down. Let me finish this,” he raised the cardboard coffee cup as if it was a trophy, “while I read your vitals.”

     As the two men enjoyed the stillness—punctuated every now and then by a slight slurping sound—Ashland began to feel as if he had seen this man before. Not professionally nor casually yet there was something about him.

     “Your last position was with Roth-Riley-Horne?”

     “Yes. Now just Roth-Riley. I think they like their new R-R logo. Reminds them of their new British owners. I got caught in a…”

     “Reorganization,” said Ashland. “I don’t like the concept of downsizing. It isn’t natural.”

     “Call it what you will...”

     “And I do,” interrupted Ashland again. There began an uneasy silence as the head of HR for Dunwoody-Bevin-Marks—Partner and Senior Vice-President, Ashland would have said—returned to the man’s CV. As he read, the nagging feeling he had seen the man before kept returning and if there was one thing Ashland didn’t like, other than being called Ash, was having a nagging feeling about anything. It was as if his personal gravity had been tampered with. His solid feet-on-the-ground attitude became jeopardized. A sureness that he wore like armor faded and he felt betrayed by his own protective planetary system in which he was the centre of the universe.

     “I think I may have seen you in late August?” said Ashland.

     “I doubt that,” said the younger man.

     “No. I’m quite sure. I was on my way to a mid-week ballgame. I left my Jag and took the subway. I exited near your old employer. Coming up the stairs, too filthy to be believed, I witnessed a remarkable scene. A man, perhaps you, was carrying what appeared to be a white plastic clothes hamper. On top of it was a large laundry basket. Both were filled with what looked like file folders, brown inter-office envelopes, binders, boxes of pens, paper clips and possibly business cards,” Ashland paused for breath and wrapped things up in what he liked to consider his trademark dismissive tone. “Although why anyone would take their business cards after leaving a company, I cannot imagine.”

     “From mid-August to early September I was in Paris with my soon-to-be ex-wife.”

     “Really? Paris? What was it like?” Before the man had a chance to answer, Ashland added, “Never mind. Don’t tell me. I would hate the traffic and the food and the people. I’m sure of it.”

     An extended silence gave the young man time to look around. He liked the office. A little too chi chi, a little too sparse, but the view south over the city to the waterfront was spectacular.

     “You said, ‘soon-to-be ex-wife.’ You must know all the laws, the rules; things we can ask, things we can’t. Why don’t you tell me whatever you feel comfortable telling me.”

     “There’s not much to tell. We were both in some sort of corporate monogamy. We loved our jobs more than each other. I was never home, neither was she. We had planned the trip as a last-ditch attempt and then the,” Hardy paused, “then the reorganization happened.”

     “So you went anyway?”

     “Why not? It was paid for and the severance was very good.” Hardy looked at his watch.

     “Hope I’m not keeping you,” Ashland was clearly offended by the younger man’s gesture. “Quite rude,” Ashland added rudely.

     “Old habit from my previous life. I was wondering what time security shows up,” said the young man as he looked at his watch again and then looked up and across the long expanse of wood that had gone into crafting the one-of-a-kind desk, the grain uninterrupted by a single sheet of paper or computer. He then looked at Ashland for a what seemed like a full minute, which made the older man a little uneasy. Ashland also wondered about security.

     Hardy was taking the measure of the man known in the industry for being ruthless, some said heartless. Rumor had it he once took a top-performing sales manager out to lunch, supposedly to celebrate an unprecedented uptick in the bottom line, and fired the man at the end of the meal. “Sometimes you just need to shake things up a bit,” Ashland had supposedly said. According to industry lore the poor bastard never recovered.

     “I suppose you were escorted out of the building?” asked Ashland, breaking the silence.

     “No. They don’t do that sort of thing. I was walked out by the Vice-President, a company limo was waiting to drive me home. My assistant was tasked with cleaning out my office. Everything was neatly packed in those ubiquitous, sterile banker’s boxes and delivered the following week by a small company known for their security. Nothing was missing, nothing broken. All very well done, considering.”

     Ashland Morrow had to force himself to keep his lower jaw firmly clamped against his expensive, perfect, gleaming, upper implants. “We won’t provide that sort of exit here.”

     “You mean,” Hardy paused then smiled. “I have the job?”

     “Oh, no. Sorry,” Ashland was clearly flustered. “No. Nothing here happens that fast,” and that’s when he noticed it. It explained perfectly why this younger man looked so familiar. The broken button, third from the top, left sleeve. He had owned this suit, the one this man was wearing.

     Ashland had stormed out of a meeting with department heads reluctant to adopt more stringent hiring parameters slamming his arm against the door jamb. The impact split the button down the middle but extra stitching kept it from falling off.  Ashland had disposed of the suit the next day at a rather exclusive executive men’s recycling shop called The Boardroom.  “I guess it’s been a bit rough these last few months,” said Ashland.

     “Yes, that would describe it, but it worked out just fine. After Roth-Riley and I went our separate ways and my marriage ended I decided to downsize. I know you dislike the word, but it’s appropriate.” Hardy could hear some conversation just beyond the double office doors. “For example, the company had provided me with a car so I made the decision to live without one. My apartment lease was coming due and now that I wasn’t to be married, I could easily live in a much smaller place. I found inexpensive neighborhood restaurants where I could enjoy long, relaxed meals without the pressure of having to race back to the office. I didn’t need a double-width closet full of suits so I cut back on my wardrobe.”

     “But that’s a nice suit,” Ashland said hoping to open a wound.

     “Second-hand. Bought it at The Boardroom.”

     Ashland couldn’t believe Hardy actually sounded proud of his new, lower status. The look on his face confirmed to the younger man that a decision had been made. Hardy nodded, as if to signal he knew this meeting was over. He stood up, then walked to the doors. Ashland noticed how tall he was. How young he looked. How well his discarded suit fit the younger man.

     “Leaving so soon?” Ashland asked in a mocking tone, knowing he had defeated the upstart, but Hardy did not respond. He walked out of the office, pausing just long enough to talk to the company’s security people, instructing them to be gentle with Ashland. To make sure they had his dismissal letter and settlement agreement and a car waiting downstairs. He then turned to the assistant and said, “The office is fine the way it is. We can work on the decor when I come back in the morning.”

     “Of course, Mr. Hardy,” she replied. “Welcome aboard.”

R.A. Lucas

Ralph Lucas, writing as R.A.Lucas was born in Montréal, Canada in the first half of the last century and began writing in his early 20s. He was first published in a 1968 U.S. poetry anthology titled The Soul and the Singer. His first collection was published in 1972. More recently, in 2018 his poem “Feels Like 40” was picked up by Amomancies (Vol. 3 Issue 2) and subsequently selected for inclusion in that year’s Best Of Amomacies book. For 2019, the poem "Strathmore: 1954 - A Short Film" was selected for the Spring 2019 issue of Silver Needle Press, and “Classifieds” was selected for inclusion in the anthology Our Poetica from Cathexis Northwest Press. In the 1970s, while working on his 2nd book of poetry, he wrote science-fiction for broadcast in Toronto (CKFM-FM) and a 39-part children’s story for broadcast in Montreal (CFQR-FM). More recently his story “Old Friends” was included in Procyon, a 2014 anthology from Tayen Lane, and “Wilson” was selected by renowned Indian writers and editors Abha Iyengar and Mona Verma for inclusion in the 2018 anthology The Other, published in India by StoryMirror.

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